New Zealand lies in relative isolation in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from Australia to the east and the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia and Fiji to the south. The country is divided into two large land masses, simply distinguished as the North Island and South Island. Its original settlers, the Maori, are believed to have migrated from the Polynesian Islands (and the legendary homeland of Hawaiki) around 1,000 years ago.
The country was first discovered by Europeans in 1642 when Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman reached a land mass off the South Island. Centuries later the country was incorporated into the British Empire with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Today New Zealand’s 4.4 million inhabitants are a mix of indigenous Maori and settlers from Europe, Asia, and other Pacific Islands.
The North Island is the more populated of the two – making up three-quarters of the country’s people. Subtropical Northland covers the northwest corner of the island, stretching into the Pacific on a peninsula of endless beaches, playful dolphins, and aquatic activities. The peninsula connects with the rest of the region near the environs of Auckland, where black sand beaches and boutique wineries surround New Zealand’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.
Further south, in the heart of the North Island, many of the region’s draws are defined by what’s lying under the surface. Underground streams have carved out the extensive subterranean maze of Waitomo Caves, which can be explored by boat, repelling, or even blackwater rafting. In Rotorua, geothermal volatility bubbles up in the form of gurgling mud pools, sprouting geysers, and natural hot springs. And cracking the surface of both earth and culture, the Maori carvings etched into the rocky cliffs of Mine Bay are an intriguing kayak trip along Lake Taupo.
On the eastern side of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay curls along the coast with warm, dry weather that is ideal for producing some of the country’s best cabernet sauvignons, merlots, and syrahs. It’s an ideal place to start a multi-day wine adventure down to the sauvignon blancs of Marlborough in the South Island, passing the pinot noirs of Martinborough along the way.
Spacious and sparse, the South Island hosts ten of New Zealand’s fourteen national parks and only a quarter of its population. The north end of the island shines with a sunny disposition and sparkling coastline. Here hikers and kayakers are called to the translucent lagoons and friendly fur seals of Abel Tasman National Park, while wine lovers sip sauvignon blancs on traditional sail boats as they wind through the verdant inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. Kaikoura caps off the north’s celebration of the sea with both its spectacular whale watching and its namesake crayfish, also known as rock lobsters or koura in Maori, which are served fresh from beachside stands.
Slicing down the length of the South Island, the Southern Alps offer an icy alternative to the beach. The low altitudes of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers make views of the snowy masses accessible by relatively easy hikes, and helicopters whirl crampon-equipped explorers higher up the glaciers to trek through glistening ice tunnels. Scenic flights and excellent driving routes provide a great taste of the snow-capped scenery for those who prefer to keep their feet on solid ground.
In the south of the island, Queenstown has leveraged its location among rushing rivers and backcountry ski runs to become the adventure capital of the country. Jet-boating and bungee-jumping were both popularized in the area and intrepid locals are keen on inventing or adapting new ways of hurling themselves into whitewater or the sky below. Solitude seekers escape instead to Fiordland, where three of New Zealand’s Great Walks (Routeburn, Milford, and Kepler) take trekkers from hut to hut among alpine lakes and secluded valleys. The capacity-controlled routes ensure there is plenty of fresh air to go around and there are many other day hikes and snaking waterways to handle the overflow!
When to go?
New Zealand has a mild, temperate climate making it, like Australia, a year-round destination. Temperatures range from 40° – 60°F during winter (June to August) and from 60° – 85°F during summer (December to March). This means lots of sunshine for water-based activities in summer and plenty of snow on the mountains for world class skiing in winter.
How to get there?
Many major airlines depart the USA daily, including Air New Zealand and Qantas Airlines. Most flights land in Auckland and there are direct connections available from Los Angeles (12.5 hrs), San Francisco (12.75 hrs), and Honolulu (9 hrs).
How much time?
It’s tempting to plan a trip to New Zealand and Australia for only two weeks. We recommend at least two weeks for each of these destinations. The trip is long, the countries are big, and the experiences are plentiful.
Who is it for?
If variety is the spice of your life, you should probably travel to New Zealand! Few countries have both beautiful beaches and massive glaciers. Throw in geothermal activity, lofty mountains, giant caves, meandering fjords, Maori culture, and serene vineyards, and you can have a completely different experience every day.
No Visa required for U.S. & Canadian Citizens
How to get around?
We recommend self-driving in a car or FWD, perhaps renting a motor home, or splurging on a private driver/guide. Expedition cruising is another splendid option… But no other country in the world is better suited for non-motorized transportation… from a bike, to a kayak or just your own two feet.
Around 4 million people live in this country, which is roughly the size of California, Britain or Japan.
New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight Saving Time (an advance of 1 hour per day) is observed from early October to late March.
220 – 240 volts AC is the standard. Outlets for 110 volts for electric razors are usually supplied in hotels.
New Zealanders, “Kiwis,” do not depend on tips or gratuities for their income, and tips are not expected for normal service. However, tipping in appreciation of extra-special service is at the discretion of the visitor.
Goods and Services Tax?
A government tax (currently 15%) is applied to all goods and services supplied in New Zealand.
Book one of our sample itineraries or use them as inspiration to work with us to build your perfect New Zealand tour!
20-Day South Island Walk & Wonder
From $16,999 per person
The wondrous and varied landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island call for an array of adventures. Get the most out of your New Zealand experience as you hike, kayak, bike, helicopter, and cave your way through the South Island on our Walk & Wonder tour! Experience the Fiordlands, Queenstown, Abel Tasman National Park, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and more! Read more…
Here are some additional ideas to get you started. Contact us for a free consultation!
- Island hopping in the Bay of Islands: The Bay of Islands is a collection of over 140 islands with a coastline sporting four villages
- Black water rafting and abseiling, followed by a thermal mud bath in Rotorua: Rotorua is also the ancestral home of the Te Arawa people who settled here more than 600 years ago, and their presence offers the visitor numerous cultural experiences
- Hike and paddle in the unspoiled Abel Tasman National Park: Or just relax. Sit in the sun, sip a wine from one of the local vineyards, and dine on the famous Nelson Bay scallops.
- Raft, heli-hike and jetboat all in the same day in Queenstown: If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan you’ll recognize many of the locations of Middle-earth here.
- Spot the mighty Albatross off the coast of Dunedin: Dunedin and Coastal Otago, a region of natural beauty overlaid with a fascinating cultural history, is often referred to as the eco-capital of New Zealand.
- Search for the “Korora,” or little blue penguin, the world’s smallest, on Stewart Island: Stewart Island is where you’ll find a haven for native bird life and is the only place in New Zealand where you have a fair chance of seeing kiwi in their native habitat.
- Explore your pick of 120 vineyards by driving the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, from Hawkes Bay down to Marlborough: Pair your wine with some NZ cuisine. New Zealand food goes way beyond fish and chips and barbeques – the chefs here have developed a distinct Pacific Rim cuisine. Expect to indulge in plenty of seafood (like greenlipped mussels, crayfish (lobster), Bluff oysters and fresh fish), award winning cheeses and of course New Zealand’s famous lamb.
Founded in the 1920’s, this lodge is the iconic New Zealand retreat. Enter through the gates of Huka Lodge and immediately begin to leave the real world behind. Located within 17-acres of magnificent park like grounds, nestled along the banks of the Waikato River, this lodge has attracted some of the worlds most affluent and discerning travelers.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
Located amidst the wine region of Hawkes Bay and atop 6,000 rolling acres of farmland, this 5-star luxury lodge blends the best of a boutique lodge with an indulgent spa treatment center and a world-renowned golf course with 180-degree panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Undoubtedly, one of the finest addresses on the planet.
Hapuku Lodge & Treehouses
Our founder, Jake Haupert’s favorite lodge in NZ. Hapuku is a contemporary country inn with a cutting edge commitment to sustainability. The lodge itself is amazing, but it is just as much about the destination. Kaikoura owes its origin to the rich and diverse marine life inhabiting the deep coastal waters. This lodge sits just below the snow-capped peaks that fall into the depths of the Pacific.
Blanket Bay Lodge
New Zealand’s ultimate alpine escape. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Blanket Bay is acclaimed as New Zealand’s best luxury lodge. It is in this extraordinary destination that you can begin to indulge in each and every moment. From the table to the mountaintop, Blanket Bay invites you to celebrate in the art of blending adventure and relaxation.
Remarkables Mountain Lodge
It is in this hidden retreat and fishing lodge that you begin to “feel” what it must be like to live in this magical destination. As soon you as you walk in, you are greeted by the innkeepers, and they help you settle into their cozy home, situated at the base of the Remarkables range. An authentic experience for the savvy and discerning traveler.
Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet
A peaceful retreat and an adventurer’s paradise, Whare Kea Lodge appears to float on the water, with a breathtaking backdrop of the Southern Alps draped behind it. This lodge offers one of the most unique luxury stays in the world in their alpine chalet, located high in the peaks of the Southern Alps, and reached by a 20-minute helicopter flight. A 2004 recipient of the Relais & Chateaux Environment Design award for excellence.
Situated on a private forest just one hour from Nelson, Stonefly is renowned for it’s access to trout rivers and streams, making it one of the top fly-fishing lodges on the planet. Allowing guests to indulge in gentle free flowing streams to more challenging back country rivers.
Luxury and natural splendor blend together effortlessly at this lodge located in the center of the majestic Southern Alps. Renowned for a style of pampering that has driven Andrew Harber to recommend Grasmere since 1998, the quintessential country ranch “station” is set amid towering 7,000 foot peeks.
Bay of Many Coves
Deep in the naturally dazzling Marlborough Sounds, Bay of Many Coves 5-star luxury resort provides a perfect seclusion in a pristine natural environment. Discover world-class cuisine, stunning scenery, adventure, romance and a sense of relaxation you could only dream of.